Why Do We Need Digital Elevation Models to Infer the Local Adaptation of Alpine Plants?

Post provided by Kevin Leempoel

dsc_4214-crest-flight-27-06-11It’s not easy to characterise the local environment of species living in mountains because these habitats are highly heterogeneous. At a large scale, we typically assume that temperature varies with altitude, but at a local scale, we understand that exposure to wind or being in the shade has a great influence on climatic conditions. If you go from the south-facing to the north-facing side of a mountain, it can be easily 5°C colder. If we can feel that, so can the organisms that live up there. Plants in particular are submitted to tremendous climatic variations over a year. What we want to know is: how did they adapt to these climatic variations and how localised is their adaptation?

Overcoming the Challenges of Measuring Local Adaptation

We don’t know much about how organisms adapt locally because it’s so difficult to measure the environmental conditions that these plants are facing. Existing weather stations can’t capture micro-habitat conditions because they are few and far between. What we can do instead, is use topographic models of mountains to model their environment. After all, if orientation, slope or shade have an impact on climatic conditions, why couldn’t we use them to model local variations in temperature for example? Continue reading

Biogeography at a Global Scale: The Benefits of Distributed Experimental Networks

Post provided by Elizabeth Borer

©NASA

©NASA

I have always loved the Blue Marble image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission, yet a large part of my science is focused on experimental responses at the scale of meter squared grassland plots or even individual grass plants. While I spent my early career wanting to be able to say something important about regional or global processes, I found myself feeling like generating any experimental insights into processes and ecosystem responses at larger scales would be an impossible fiction.

As a postdoc, I had the opportunity to do a multi-site study across a north-south precipitation gradient in California and jumped at it. Among other questions, I decided to ask about whether plants and insects varied similarly across sites in response to replicated experimental treatments. Yet, the idea of actually sampling – and then processing samples from – more than about four sites for more than a year or two was utterly daunting. Continue reading

Biogeography Virtual Issue

Photo © An-Yi Cheng

© An-Yi Cheng

To coincide with the International Biogeography Society’s 2017 conference in Tuscon, Arizona, we have compiled a Virtual Issue that shows off new Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles in the field from a diverse array of authors.

To truly understand how species’ distributions vary through space and time, biogeographers often have to make use of analytical techniques from a wide array of disciplines. As such, these papers cover advances in fields such as evolutionary analysis, biodiversity definitions, species distribution modelling, remote sensing and more. They also reflect the growing understanding that biogeography can include experiments and highlight the increasing number of software packages focused towards biogeography.

This Virtual Issue was compiled by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors Pedro Peres-Neto and Will Pearse (both of whom are involved in the conference). All of the articles in this Virtual Issue are free for a limited time and we have a little bit more information about each of the papers included here: Continue reading

Just snap it! Using Digital Cameras to Discover What Birds Eat

Post provided by Davide Gaglio and Richard Sherley

Digital photography has revolutionised the way we view ourselves, each other and our environment. The use of automated cameras (including camera traps) in particular has provided remarkable opportunities for biological research. Although mostly used for recreational purposes, the development of user-friendly, versatile auto-focus digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras allows researchers to collect large numbers of high quality images at relatively little cost.

These cameras can help to answer questions such as ‘What does that species feed its young?’ or ‘How big is this population?’, and can provide researchers with glimpses of rare events or previously unknown behaviours. We used these powerful research tools to develop a non-invasive method to assess the diets of birds that bring visible prey (e.g. prey carried in the bill or feet) back to their chicks. Continue reading

Conifers for Christmas: Evolution above the level of species

Post provided by  Aelys Humphreys

Conifers for Christmas

It’s somehow fitting that the centre piece of an ancient midwinter tradition in Europe – that of decorating and worshipping an evergreen tree – is an ancient seed plant, a conifer. In Europe, we tend to think of conifers as “Christmas trees” – evergreen trees with needles and dry cones, restricted to cold and dry environments – but conifers are much more diverse and widespread than that. There are broad-leaved, tropical conifers with fleshy cones and even a parasitic species that is thought to parasitise on members of its own family!

Conifer diversity. Classic Christmas tree style conifers in the snow; a broadleaved, tropical podocarp (© Ming-I Weng); the only parasitic gymnosperm, Parasitaxus usta (©W. Baker).

Conifer diversity. Classic Christmas tree style conifers in the snow; a broadleaved, tropical podocarp (© Ming-I Weng); the only parasitic gymnosperm, Parasitaxus usta (©W. Baker).

However, while today’s distribution of conifers is global – spanning tropical, temperate and boreal zones – it is fragmented. The conifer fossil record extends well into the Carboniferous and bears witness to a lineage that was once much more abundant, widespread and diverse. So we can tell that today’s diversity and distribution have been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of speciation, extinction and migration. Continue reading

Smoothies and Sinusoids: Why Fourier Analysis is a Great Tool for Tropical Phenology

Post provided by Emma R. Bush and Nils Bunnefeld

What is Fourier Analysis?

Strictly speaking, Fourier analysis is the decomposition of any mathematical function into a series of sine and cosine waves (sinusoids). But let’s not talk about maths – how about food instead?

The Fourier transform is like a special set of sieves that helps you find out all the ingredients in your favourite smoothie ©VICUSCHKA/Shutterstock.com

The Fourier transform is like a special set of sieves that helps you find out all the ingredients in your favourite smoothie ©VICUSCHKA/Shutterstock.com

Imagine you’ve just bought a delicious smoothie from your local café. You like the smoothie so much that you want to know the recipe so that you can make it again at home whenever you want. You’re too shy to ask at the café, so you pour the smoothie through a series of special sieves that separate out each of the ingredients and you write down the recipe – 100ml orange juice, 50ml mango juice, 50ml banana purée and a handful of hipster kale (we haven’t tried this recipe, but we’re sure it would be lovely). You’re quite keen to keep drinking the smoothie, so you mix all the separated ingredients back together again, and the smoothie is just as delicious as before. Continue reading

Lasers in the Jungle Somewhere: How Airborne LiDAR Reveals the Structure of Forests

Post provided by Phil Wilkes (PDRA, Department of Geography, University College London)

Like an X-ray, airborne LiDAR allows you to peer through the dense canopy, revealing the structure of the forest beneath. ©Robert Kerton, CSIRO

Like an X-ray, airborne LiDAR allows you to peer through the dense canopy, revealing the structure of the forest beneath. ©Robert Kerton, CSIRO

How many samples do you hope to collect on your next field assignment? 50, 100 or 1000? How about billions. It may seem overly optimistic, but that’s the reality when using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR.

LiDAR works on the principle of firing hundreds of thousands of laser pulses a second that measure the distance to an intercepting surface. This harmless barrage of light creates a highly accurate 3D image of the target – whether it’s an elephant, a Cambodian temple or pedestrians walking down the street. LiDAR has made the news over recent years for its ability to unearth ancient temples through thick jungle, but for those of us with an ecological motive it is the otherwise impenetrable cloak of vegetation which is of more interest.

Airborne LiDAR in Forests

As it’s National Tree Week in the UK, the focus of this blog post will be on the application of LiDAR in forests. There are a number of techniques that use LiDAR in forests, across a range of scales, from handheld, backpack and tripod mounted terrestrial laser scanners to spaceborne instruments on the International Space Station. Continue reading

Genetic Research May Help Trace Chum Salmon to Home Rivers

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Potentially adaptive mitochondrial haplotypes as a tool to identify divergent nuclear loci‘ taken from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Michael Garvin sails through Auke Bay, just north of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. ©Chris Lunsford

Michael Garvin sails through Auke Bay, just north of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. ©Chris Lunsford

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have uncovered genetic markers that can help trace chum salmon to the rivers in which they hatched, according to a new paper published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Mapping out chum salmon pathways could help improve management of the species in Western Alaska, according to Oregon State University Department of Integrative Biology postdoctoral fellow Michael Garvin.

“In some years, chum salmon are frequently the bycatch of pollock fishermen” in the Bering Sea, Garvin explained. “Genetically, chum salmon that originate in Western Alaska tend to look very similar. This makes it difficult for stakeholders because management and conservation efforts to address this bycatch can differ among these regions, but the ability to identify them with genetics is not possible.” Continue reading

National Tree Week Virtual Issue

mee-nationaltreeweek-cover-720pxlIn the UK, National Tree Week (26 November – 4 December) celebrates tree planting within local communities. The latest BES cross-journal Virtual Issue contains recent papers that highlight the global importance of trees and forests as habitat – for species from insects to primates – and in meeting human needs for fuel and agriculture. The selected papers also demonstrate novel methods scientists are using to study trees and forests.

National Tree Week is the UK’s largest tree celebration. It was started in 1975 by the Tree Council and has grown into an event that brings hundreds of organisations together to mark the beginning of Britain’s winter tree planting season.

This Virtual Issue was compiled by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors Sarah Goslee and Sean McMahon. All of the articles in this Virtual Issue are free for a limited time and we have a little bit more information about each of the Methods papers included here:

Connecting Forest Patches

Sagebrush steppe in eastern Idaho, USA

© Brittany J. Teller

Landscape connectivity is important for the ecology and genetics of populations threatened by climate change and habitat fragmentation. To begin our Virtual Issue Rayfield et al. present a method for identifying a multipurpose network of forest patches that promotes both short- and long-range connectivity. Their approach can be tailored to local, regional and continental conservation initiatives to protect essential species movements that will allow biodiversity to persist in a changing climate. The authors illustrate their method in the agroecosystem bordered by the Laurentian and Appalachian mountain ranges, that surrounds Montreal.

Continue reading

Topography of Teeth: Tools to Track Animal and Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Changes

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Inferring diet from dental morphology in terrestrial mammals‘ taken from the Smithsonian Institution.

By charting the slopes and crags on animals’ teeth as if they were mountain ranges, scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have created a powerful new way to learn about the diets of extinct animals from the fossil record.

Understanding the diets of animals that lived long ago can tell researchers about the environments they lived in and help them piece together a picture of how the planet has changed over deep time. The new quantitative approach to analysing dentition, reported on 21 November in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will also give researchers a clearer picture of how animals evolve in response to changes in their environment.

gorilla

A 3D reconstruction of the teeth of a western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla).

Continue reading